85-year-old Richard Sherman is a character in the Disney holiday release “Saving Mr. Banks” opposite Emma Thompson as Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Jason Schwartzman plays Sherman and B.J. Novak plays Sherman’s brother and songwriting partner, Robert B. Sherman.
“Jason and I did a lot of talking,” Sherman says. “He listened and watched me play. He’s a musician himself, a drummer, but he plays the piano a little – more in a jazz style. I play Tin Pan Alley. You play the accompaniment and sing the melody. He learned.”
Schwartzman knew Sherman would be on set every day, so he listened to all the tapes that Travers had recorded of her Disney meetings, which include a lot of the Sherman brothers playing and singing the “Poppins” songs. Then Schwartzman gave the tapes to his piano teacher, who transcribed them and taught him how to play exactly like Sherman was playing in 1961, when songs such as “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” were still evolving.
“No one would ever notice that in the movie,” Schwartzman says, “but I knew it would be meaningful to Richard if I played as correctly as possible. I wanted him to feel like we were doing it right.”
If Schwartzman was nervous playing someone who was sitting mere feet from him during filming, he had to get over it. “As weird as it was for me, it had to be 10 times weirder for him. I could see him having visceral reactions to the scenes with Travers laying into him and his brother.”